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Reviewed by:
  • Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders
  • Prasenjit Duara (bio)
Pan-Asianism in Modern Japanese History: Colonialism, Regionalism and Borders. Edited by Sven Saaler and J. Victor Koschmann. Routledge, London, 2007. xvi, 288 pages. $170.00, cloth; $43.95, paper.

This is a useful collection of essays that will feed the growing interest in pan-Asianism in Japan and elsewhere. The 15 essays in the volume bring the story of Japanese pan-Asianism down to the present time, although the [End Page 185] bulk of the essays are devoted to the interwar period. While there is much to commend in this volume, its thrust is to consolidate the existing framework of knowledge on the subject. Perhaps the editors will next take on the task of bringing together the new and wider research on the subject of pan Asianism in Asia with that on Japanese pan-Asianism.

Pan-Asianism was more than a Japanese intellectual-political development; it had enormous consequences on the ground in much of Asia. It also became tied in many ways to pan-Asian movements all over Asia which the Japanese military tried to manipulate. It thus behooves us to study the impact and reception of these Japanese ideas and their intertwining with political trends and military imperatives in Asia. Even if we return to the conclusion—which continues to be seen as largely foregone—that pan Asianism had no chance of working in Asia because of a range of reasons, its study can potentially give us a highly complex understanding of the historical situation in many parts of Asia.1

To be fair, as far as I know, there is no previous major and comprehensive volume in English about Japanese pan-Asian thought comparable to Furuya Tetsuo's edited volume, Kindai Nihon no Ajia ninshiki (Yamazaki Mugen, 1994). As such, the volume under review here gives us a good sense of the main trends in Japanese pan-Asianism in its political and intellectual dimensions. Sven Saaler's opening essay presents an overall institutional study of what one might call a pan-Asianist movement, tracking its variegated history over the twentieth century. Other essays in this general section also cover organizations and figures, but I was shocked to see Miwa Kimitada writing about Huang Zunxian as a Korean scholar diplomat in Japan. Huang (1848–1905) was the pre-eminent Chinese diplomat and counselor to the first Chinese mission in Japan and one of the most well-known commentators on the Meiji experience for the Chinese.

The largest number of essays deal with the intellectual history of pan Asianism and particularly the thought of individual thinkers, often in their intellectual milieu. There are some able analyses of thinkers such as the Hegelian, Tanabe Hajime, whose ideas of negation, self-alienation, and reconciliation are superbly discussed by John Namjun Kim. For Tanabe, the multiculturalism of empire is the only condition of freedom, but this freedom [End Page 186] can only be realized through death. Kim grasps Tanabe's thought as the production of a theory of subjectivity in the service of Japanese imperial expansion. However, the fascination with the dialectical logic of Tanabe's ideas does not reveal how we end up with the historical demand of the sacrifice of the self for the state.

Most valuable in the intellectual history of pan-Asianism in this book is the revelation of the variety of motivations, approaches, and projects that made up pan-Asianism before, during, and after the period it was appropriated by the military in the Asian war. Thus we see not only thinkers who emphasize cultural pan-Asianism or a civilization war between East and West (such as Ōkawa Shūmei), but rational, economistic pan-Asianists such as Sugimori Kōjirō and Rōyama Masamichi studied by Dick Stegewerns and Victor Koschmann. These were people who opted for pan-Asianism as a kind of "developmental dictatorship," a regionalism based not on a priori cultural affinity as much as rational economic promise. Although they assumed this regionalism was going to be hierarchical and justified it in the prevalent language of an "Asian Monroe Doctrine," they recognized the importance of give and take and...


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